George Charles PEARSON
Eyes grey, Hair dark brown, Complexion dark
The Pearsons – A High Price Paid by the Family
The Pearson family lived in Shady Creek, north of Yarragon, Victoria, about 120 kilometres east of Melbourne. James Pearson and Agnes May, nee Masterton, had six children who survived to adulthood - Jessie, William, Robert, George, Agnes and John (‘Jack’).
George Charles Pearson was their third youngest child, born in January 1892. George’s mother died in 1904 when he was just 12.
George attended the Yarragon State School and worked as a labourer after his schooling was completed and he was a member of the Yarragon Rifle Club.
The Pearson family was heavily impacted by the War – George and Robert were killed in 1916, just days apart, in Fromelles and Pozieres respectively. Youngest son Jack enlisted only days before his brothers died in 1916 and he, in turn, was killed in 1918 at Villers Bretonneux. The family also lost two cousins and a nephew. Robert left behind his wife Elsie and his young son, Robbie.
Enlistment, Training and Off to Egypt
George was 23 when he signed up to ‘do his duty’ on 12 July 1915. Robert, 25, followed just nine days later. They were assigned to different battalions, George to the 31st, C Company, and Robert to the 6th Battalion. Their Army training was in the Broadmeadows camp, outside of Melbourne.
George was the first to ship out, departing on 9 November 1915 aboard the HMAT Wandilla. Before sailing, the soldiers had been on parade in Melbourne in front of a good crowd. In the Weekly Times (Saturday 6 November 1915, page 32), the Minister for Defence, H.F. Pearce said, “I do not think I have ever seen a finer body of men.” Robert left Australia two weeks later.
The Wandilla docked at Port Suez exactly four weeks after leaving Melbourne. The 31st’s initial assignments were in Zietoun, Serapeum and Tel el Kebir, training and guarding the Suez Canal. When they left Serapeum there were no trains available so they were transported for the 60 kilometre trip in “dirty horse trucks”. At the end of March 1916, they were moved to Ferry Post and Duntroon and were in Moascar at the end of May.
The call to the Western Front came and the 979 soldiers of the 31st began their way on 15 June, taking a train from Moascar to Alexandria and boarding the troopship Hororata for a five-day sail to Marseilles.
The Western Front – Fromelles
Once in France, the soldiers were immediately put onto trains to Steenbeque, 35 kilometres from Fleurbaix, arriving on 26 June for further training before going to the front. George was into the trenches for the first time on 11 July, just 364 days after enlisting.
The attack was originally planned for the 17th but was postponed due to bad weather.
On the 19th, they were back in the trenches at 4.00 pm ready for their assault which began at 5.58 pm. They went over the parapet in four waves, about ten minutes apart. George’s C Company platoons were in the first and second waves:
Just prior to launching the attack, the enemy bombardment was hellish, and it seemed as if they knew accurately the time set.
The pre-battle bombardment did have a big impact on German first line trenches and the 31st quickly advanced to the second line, which was mostly ditches filled with water. Even with the initial support, they remained under heavy artillery fire from both sides.
Unfortunately, with the early success of their attack, ‘friendly’ artillery fire caused a large number of casualties. They were able to take out a German machine gun in their advances but were being “seriously enfiladed” from their left flank. Fighting continued throughout the night, with heavy firing from concealed machine guns at Delangre Farm as well as other farms and houses.
At 5.30 am the Germans attacked from both flanks, in force and with bombing parties. Having only a few grenades left, the only resistance the 31st could offer was with rifles:
”The enemy swarmed in and the retirement across no mans’ land resembled shambles, the enemy artillery and machine guns doing deadly damage.”
The 31st were out of the trenches by the end of the day on the 20th. The headcount was just 512 soldiers of the 979 who had left Egypt.
George did not make it to the roll call.
The Family’s Uncertain Wait
After the battle, all the Army could tell the Pearson family was that he was missing in action, a similar story for thousands of men.
However, the family still had some reason to hope that he was, in fact, alive. In a 25 October letter to the Army, a friend of George’s from Yarragon (Mrs McCrory, wife of the local blacksmith) said that they had heard from a mate who had seen George lying wounded on the ground, as well as from a friend who had said George was NOT missing but had been sent to hospital in London.
Unfortunately, these reports turned out to be untrue.
There are no reports in the Army files from his mates on when or where he died. His body was not recovered by either the Australians or the Germans, who provided details from the ID tags of soldiers that they recovered after the battle. James Pearson did however receive George’s identity disc in 1918 but there is no detail as to how or when it was recovered.
The Sad Toll for the Family
George was confirmed to be Killed in Action in a Court of Enquiry in the Field held on 1 August 1917. His remains have not yet been identified.
In the Roll of Honour circular completed by George’s father after the war, James Pearson noted the known details of his son’s death and added the sad note that George also had “2 brothers, 2 cousins and 1 nephew all killed”.
George’s older brother Pte 3900 Robert F. Pearson was killed on 24 July 1916, aged 26, in the battle at Pozieres. Notes on his AIF file indicate that his body was recovered and was buried just south of Pozieres, possibly in or near the Lonsdale Military Cemetery, Authuille, France. He is commemorated on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial in France.
His youngest brother Private 345 Jack L. Pearson was killed in April 1918 at Villers Bretonneux and is buried in the Bonnay Communal Cemetery Extension, grave A14.
His nephew Sgt 2795 William F. Skinner (eldest son of George’s sister Jessie) was killed in action at Perrone, France on 31 August 1918. He is buried at the Assevilliers New British Cemetery (plot XI row D grave 7) in France.
His maternal cousin Pte 4703 James A. Grant was killed in action at Bullecourt in France aged 30. He has no known grave and is also commemorated on the Villers-Brettoneux Memorial.
The other cousin listed by James Pearson has not yet been identified.
George was awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal, a Memorial Scroll and a Memorial Plaque. All were received by his father as his next of kin.
He is commemorated on:
- Panel 4 at VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France
- Panel 119 at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra
- The Yarragon War Memorial which was opened on 17 July 1920 by General Pompey Elliott who was also at the Battle of Fromelles.
- All three brothers are also on the Yarragon State School Honour Roll.
As reported in the West Gippsland Gazette (17 December 1918 page 2), “the actual unveiling was performed by Mr. J. Pearson, of whose sons the names of three appear on the board as killed.” The Honour Roll is now in the Yarragon Primary School Office.
From Jack’s obituary notice inserted by James Pearson in 1918 (pictured earlier):
“They Gave Their All for the Country’s Call
After 14 Years, Mother, Sons and Nephew Reunited
DNA is still being sought for family connections to
|Soldier||George Charles PEARSON 1892-1916|
|Parents||James E. G. PEARSON b. 1858 Victoria, d. 1932 Queensland|
|Agnes May MASTERTON b. 1858–1904, Victoria|
|Siblings||Jessie Maud (married SKINNER) 1879-1938|
|William Henry 1884-1960|
|Robert Fearnley 1889-1916|
|Agnes May (married Hewat/Rowe) 1895-1975|
|John Leslie 1898-1918|
|Paternal||Ebenezer PEARSON b. 1832 England, d. 1863 Victoria and Emma FEARNLEY b. 1834 England, d. 1916 Victoria (remarried MULLINS 1869)|
|Maternal||James MASTERSON b.1821 Scotland, d.1902 Victoria and Janet PARK b. 1828 Scotland, d. 1905 Victoria|
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